Yesterday I finished my first knitted lace--Laura Nelkin's "Skywalker" shawl, in a lavender alpaca from Frog Tree. It's a lovely shawl, and I had the help of her Craftsy online class. (Good class, by the way.)
I've been knitting for a long time, but I tend to not gauge ("Gauge, Schmauge" is my motto) or--obviously--do any garments that required fitting. In other words, I've done any number of spectacular afghans, scarves, etc. (Oh, and one sock. I really like socks and I swear I'm going to back and make the other one, and then some.)
My attention span is roughly equivalent to that of a 2 year old, but I am pretty left-brained and generally take direction well.
All of this is by way of background for lessons I can pass along to other beginning lace knitters, and perhaps a bit to designers.
1) Learning to read charts is a good idea. Really. I'm a librarian, so text and words have been my bread-and-butter for nearly half a century. Most people are visual learners (I'm actually more kinesthetic) and, while I started out reading the text instructions, as I've done all my knitting life, it really is easier to keep track of where you are on a chart.
2) Better too many lifelines than too few. I had never used lifelines before, but I can't imagine that you could do lace without them, especially if you're a beginner with lace. Trust me on this. Ask me how I know.
3) You can't multi-task on this one. I know, women are really good at that and you probably all saw the woman knitting at Wimbledon but I can guarantee, without knowing exactly what she was working on, that it was not lace. Maybe a designer can knit a relatively simple pattern of her own without paying close attention but fellow beginners, you and I cannot. You might think you can slip in a TV show or an Olympic event, or a conversation with a friend but that's a big no.
4) Find a pattern for beginners. Skywalker was designed specifically for beginners, for a class, and built stitches and skills as the pattern progressed. Find some lace patterns on Ravelry (look for those that are for beginners) and take a look at them. Does it look like a pattern that YOU could do, i.e., is it written logically and in a way that makes sense to you? As with everything, some patterns are better for YOU than others. When you find a designer whose designs make sense for you, get more practice by doing more than one design. There are many terrific designers out there. Explore and have fun! (And designers, please keep in mind that you can "recruit" beginners if you design a few patterns that beginners can handle.)
5) Use yarn that you'll enjoy working with for awhile, and will be something you'll wear or use often when you're finished. Use a light-colored yarn, rather than a dark--it's easier to see your stitches. Choose something that's beautiful to you; something of a similar content to what was used for the pattern sample is a pretty safe bet.
6) Lace can look, well, not like you think it should when it's on the needles. It really becomes what it's supposed to be when it has been blocked. If it looks less lacy than the finished sample in the pattern's photo don't be discouraged. It will look better when it's blocked.
Here's what Skywalker looked like when it came off the needles, but before it was blocked. It looked pretty messy when it was still on the needles, because it was all scrunched up. (The toes are an added bonus in the photo. I don't have a long enough attention span to give myself a pedicure.)
7) Most of all, enjoy the learning. Lace really is beautiful and it can be relatively simple or quite complicated. If you're a perfectionist, cut yourself some slack and let yourself enjoy learning.